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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Assange lawyer:disfunctional FOI encourages whistleblowers

In this interview published by Miller-McCune, Julian Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens, one of the best in the media law game anywhere, discusses "the uncomfortable relationship between the free flow of ideas and the inclination of governments to make everything a secret."  Well worth a read. Much of it has relevance everywhere, in particular:
M-M: Is the government entitled to keep any of its secrets?
MS: It is the government’s job to keep its own secrets, and it is the media’s job to be a check and balance on that. For myself, clearly I would accept that the government must have its secrets. But as Richard Dearlove the former head of MI6 has said, the state should have its secrets, but not as many, and not for as long as most people think. That’s the critical factor....

M-M: Is there a direct relationship between a flawed freedom-of-information system like the one you’ve just described and the rise of whisteblowing outlets like WikiLeaks?

MS: Freedom of information has been a good thing since 1766 when the Swedes first passed a freedom of information law. The theory in democratic society is that we know all things of moment so that we can make up our minds about the issues of the day. If we’re not told most of the important matters on which to base our decisions, then clearly they’re going to be skewed. If you have a freedom-of-information system which is defective, if you have an exponential increase in classification like we’ve seen in the last two to five years, where the classification graph goes up virtually vertically, at that point, you are going to see far more people whose consciences are going to be pricked to become whistle-blowers. The dysfunctional nature of freedom of information, the overclassification, means that people are not going to stand for that lack of accountability in government.
If you're in New York this panel discussion with Stephens on Wednesday, "Life After WikiLeaks: Who Won the Information War" at the Colombia School of Journalism sounds interesting.

While his client can't travel for obvious reasons, Stephens can. Is anyone trying to get him here?

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